Lawsuit challenges residency of School Board member

A lawsuit filed by a former Lafayette Parish School System administrator challenges District 7 School Board member Mark Cockerham’s residency and calls on him to vacate the seat he currently holds.

The challenge, if successful, would not affect Cockerham’s candidacy for District 7, but it could affect his current term on the board, during which he could cast a crucial vote on the future of Superintendent Pat Cooper’s employment.

Nancy Cech, a former Lafayette Parish school principal and academic auditor, filed the lawsuit Friday in the state’s 15th Judicial District Court, asking the court to make Cockerham vacate the seat effective Aug. 20, the date he filed for candidacy for re-election to District 7.

Cech claims Cockerham’s address at 418 Breemen Circle is actually in District 9, based on district maps now in effect.

Cech’s lawsuit includes a map of District 9, which shows it went into effect in 2002 and was provided by former School Board member Mike Hefner’s demography company.

Hefner said Tuesday that the map Cech is using is in effect only until Dec. 31 for the current School Board.

The School Board reapportioned districts based on the 2010 census and approved new district maps, which take effect in January 2015; however, candidates qualify for the October 2014 elections based on the new district boundaries, Hefner said.

Cockerham moved since he last ran for office in 2010. He previously lived off Kaliste Saloom Road and now lives on Breemen Circle.

Under the new map that takes effect in January, Breemen Circle is in District 7, which is the district Cockerham qualified for in the Nov. 4 election.

Cech’s petition is for Cockerham to vacate his current seat, which is required by state law when a board member no longer resides in the district he or she represents. Based on state law, a hearing should be held within 20 days of Cockerham being served with the lawsuit.

Cockerham said he used the new map that shows Breemen Circle in District 7 as his guide when making his decision to move. That map shows that Breemen Circle is in Precinct 95, on the southern border of District 7.

“I checked with Mike Hefner, who’s a demographer, the School Board office and the clerk of court,” Cockerham said. “I made three different attempts to make sure I was still in the district. I wouldn’t have moved.”

Hefner said Cockerham asked him for a copy of the new District 7 map, but did not consult him about whether a move would place him in another district.

Cockerham is the incumbent in the District 7 race against Lafayette attorney Dawn Morris.

Efforts to reach Cech by phone Tuesday were unsuccessful. Cech filed the lawsuit on her own and appears to have no legal representation.

In an answer to Cech’s lawsuit filed Tuesday, Cockerham’s attorney, Gary McGoffin, denied the allegations and requested a dismissal.

Current board members’ terms end Dec. 31. While that’s only three months away, this board could decide whether to fire Cooper. On Wednesday, the board will consider formal charges against Cooper based on the findings presented last week by an attorney the board hired to investigate the superintendent.

If the board votes to accept any of the charges, it may decide to move forward with a termination hearing where Cooper will have a chance to defend himself against the charges.

Another lawsuit — filed in federal court by Cajundome director Greg Davis — challenges two board members’ participation — Mark Babineaux and Tehmi Chassion — in any votes related to any potential termination proceedings against Cooper. McGoffin represents Davis in that lawsuit.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.